Doubts about vaccines in general and the speed of making the COVID-19 vaccines have some taking a cautious view.
Skepticism about vaccines in general and specifically how quickly the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed have some taking a cautious view of the shots that could bring an end to the pandemic, according to Louisville-area physicians.
“Patients often ask ‘are you going to get it?’,” said Steven Patton M.D., a family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Preston. His answer is, “Of course.”
But he recognizes that many don’t understand how it went through development and clinical trials so fast.
“I think that’s a lot of the hesitance. A lot of people are talking about that,” Dr. Patton said
Dr. Patton notes that during a normal drug development effort, the drug makers don’t share information while working independently.
“Whereas this one, we were able to get the strain of the virus quickly, and then we were able to share our data of what we’ve learned from each other,” he said.
New technology allows vaccine development in months, not years
New vaccine technology had been in the works for more than a decade and was ready to be put into practice just as the coronavirus started to spread.
The previous method of making vaccines took years as viruses had to have been grown, purified and inactivated. Once injected, the dead virus would trick the body into responding with antibodies that would at least weaken the live virus if not keep it at bay entirely.
Rather than using inactivated virus, the new technology helps the body’s cells to make a harmless protein that triggers the immune response and antibodies to fight off the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
By plugging in the right piece of genetic code for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, vaccine candidates were designed in days and ready for clinical trials — a strenuous process that allows no shortcuts.
With the new technology — messenger RNA — ready for testing, the urgency around the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the recruiting of thousands of volunteers for the three phases of clinical trials.
Governments around the world willing to fund the work and guarantee purchases of safe and effective vaccines relieved the drugmakers of much of the financial risk and other roadblocks.
“For those people who are still a little wary about the vaccine, there is something else I always say: “Look at the long-term effects of COVID-19, such as damage to the heart or vessels or scarring of the lungs,’” Dr. Patton said. “So far, looking at these trials, I’m not seeing any of those side effects with the vaccine.”
Vulnerable populations more at risk
The skepticism around the vaccines’ development can combine with a fear of vaccines and an overall reluctance to get preventive medical care.
That tendency among people of color in vulnerable populations may extend to the COVID-19 vaccines, said Kelly C. McCants, M.D., acting executive director of Norton Healthcare Institute for Health Equity and medical director, Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Advanced Heart Failure and Recovery Program.
“It just so happened to be COVID-19 this time, but any chronic illness, or any acute crisis, that affects vulnerable populations is going to be a challenge,” Dr. McCants said. “Hypertension, diabetes, obesity, mental health and other conditions are largely preventable, and treatable, but still these vulnerable communities suffer.”
Health care professionals will need to make sure people in these vulnerable communities are engaged and understand that the vaccine is safe, according to Dr. McCants.
In addition to the vaccines being around 95% effective — unheard-of effectiveness for any vaccine — the side effects have been mild headaches and sore arms.
Weighing the risk of some mild aches and pains versus the long-term effects of surviving COVID-19 make it a simple choice for many health care providers.
“A lot of us in health care are excited about the vaccine because we’ve seen the casualties and complications that the virus has caused,” Dr. Patton said. “We are there for the people, and we want to be able to continue to fight for the people and decrease their exposure as well.”